Слике страница

bred for fome time at a free-school; the very freeschool, I prefume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was mafter of: but that his father being obliged, through narrownefs of circumftances, to withdraw him too foon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any proficiency in the dead languages; a point that will deserve some little difcuffion in the fequel of this differtation.

How long he continued in his father's way of bufinefs, either as an affiftant to him, or on his own proper account, no notices are left to inform us: nor have I been able to learn precisely at what period of life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his acquaintance with London and the stage.

In order to fettle in the world after a familymanner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain he did fo for by the monument in Stratford church, erected to the memory of his daughter Sufanna, the wife of John Hall, gentleman, it appears, that he died on the 2d of July, in the year 1649, aged 66. So that he was born in 1583, when her father could not be full 19 years old; who was himself born in the year 1564. Nor was she his eldest child, for he had another daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Shakspeare must have entered into wedlock by that time he was turned of seventeen years.

Whether the force of inclination merely, or fome concurring circumftances of convenience in the match, prompted him to marry fo early, is not

2 See the extracts from the register-book of the parish of Stratford, in a preceding page. STBEVENS.

eafy to be determined at this distance; but, it is probable, a view of intereft might partly fway his conduct in this point: for he married the daughter of one Hathaway, a fubftantial yeoman in his neighbourhood, and the had the ftart of him in age no less than eight years. She furvived him notwithstanding seven seasons, and died that very year the players publifhed the firft edition of his works in folio, anno Dom. 1623, at the age of 67 years, as we likewife learn from her monument in Stratford church.

How long he continued in this kind of fettlement, upon his own native spot, is not more eafily to be determined. But if the tradition be true, of that extravagance which forced him both to quit his country and way of living, to wit, his being engaged with a knot of young deer-ftealers, to rob the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford, the enterprize favours fo much of youth and levity, we may reasonably suppose it was before he could write full man. Befides, confidering he has left us fix-and-thirty plays at least, avowed to be genuine ; and confidering too that he had retired from the ftage, to spend the latter part of his days at his own native Stratford; the interval of time neceffarily required for the finishing fo many dramatick pieces, obliges us to fuppofe he threw himfelf very early upon the play-house. And as he could, probably, contract no acquaintance with the drama, while he was driving on the affair of wool at home; fome time must be loft, even after he had commenced player, before he could attain knowledge enough in the fcience to qualify himself for turning author.

It has been obferved by Mr. Rowe, that amongst other extravagancies, which our author has given VOL. I.

[ocr errors]

to his Sir John Falftaff in The Merry Wives of Windfor, he has made him a deer-ftealer; and, that he might at the fame time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow, he has given him very near the fame coat of arms, which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there. There are two coats, I obferve, in Dugdale, where three filver fishes are borne in the name of Lucy; and another coat, to the monument of Thomas Lucy, fon of Sir William Lucy, in which are quartered, in four feveral divifions, twelve little fishes, three in each divifion, probably Luces. This very coat, indeed, feems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen white Luces, and in Slender faying he may quarter. When I confider the exceeding candour and good-nature of our author (which inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him) and that he should throw this humorous piece of fatire at his profecutor, at least twenty years after the provocation given; I am confidently perfuaded it must be owing to an unforgiving rancour on the profecutor's fide: and, if this was the cafe, it were pity but the difgrace of fuch an inveteracy fhould remain as a lafting reproach, and Shallow ftand as a mark of ridicule to ftigmatize his malice.

It is faid, our author spent fome years before his death in ease, retirement, and the converfation of his friends, at his native Stratford. I could never pick up any certain intelligence, when he relinquifhed the ftage. I know, it has been mistakenly thought by fome, that Spenfer's Thalia, in his Tears of the Muses, where the laments the loss of

[ocr errors]

her Willy in the comick scene, has been applied to our author's quitting the ftage. But Spenfer himfelf, it is well known, quitted the stage of life in the year 1598; and, five years after this, we find Shakspeare's name among the actors in Ben Jonfon's Sejanus, which firft made its appearance in the year 1603. Nor furely, could he then have any thoughts of retiring, fince that very year a licence under the privy-feal was granted by King James I. to him and Fletcher, Burbage, Phillippes, Hemings, Condell, &c. authorizing them to exercife the art of playing comedies, tragedies, &c. as well at their ufual houfe called The Globe on the other fide of the water, as in any other parts of the kingdom, during his majesty's pleasure (a copy of which licence is preferved in Rymer's Foedera). Again, it is certain, that Shakspeare did not exhibit his Macbeth till after the Union was brought about, and til after King James I. had begun to touch for the evil: for it is plain, he has inferted compliments on both thofe accounts, upon his royal master in that tragedy. Nor, indeed, could the number of the dramatick pieces, he produced, admit of his retiring near fo early as that period. So that what Spenfer there fays, if it relate at all to Shakspeare, muft hint at fome occafional recess he made for a time upon a disgust taken or the Willy, there mentioned, muft relate to fome other favourite poet. I believe, we may fafely determine, that he had not quitted in the year 1610. For, in his Tempeft, our author makes mention of the Bermuda iflands, which were unknown to the English, till, in 1609, Sir John Summers made a voyage to North-America, and difcovered them, and afterwards invited fome of his countrymen to fettle a plantation there. That he

became the private gentleman at least three years before his decease, is pretty obvious from another circumftance: I mean, from that remarkable and well-known ftory, which Mr. Rowe has given us of our author's intimacy with Mr. John Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury; and upon whom Shakspeare made the following facetious epitaph:

"Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd,

""Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd;

"If any man afk, who lies in this tomb,

"Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe."

This farcaftical piece of wit was, at the gentleman's own requeft, thrown out extemporally in his company. And this Mr. John Combe I take to be the fame, who, by Dugdale in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, is faid to have died in the year 1614,3 and for whom, at the upper end of the quire of the Guild of the Holy Crofs at Stratford, a fair monument is erected, having a ftatue thereon cut in alabafter, and in a gown, with this epitaph: "Here lieth interred the body of John Combe, efq; who died the 10th of July, 1614, who bequeathed feveral annual charities to the parish of Stratford, and 100l. to be lent to fifteen poor tradesmen from three years to three years, changing the parties every third year, at the rate of fifty fhillings per annum, the increase to be diftributed to the almes-poor there."-The donation has all the air of a rich and fagacious ufurer.

Shakspeare himself did not survive Mr. Combe

3 By Mr. Combe's Will, which is now in the Prerogative-office in London, Shakspeare had a legacy of five pounds bequeathed to him. The Will is without any date. REED.

« ПретходнаНастави »